Winning words: “Feldenkrais” and “Gesellschaft”

For the third consecutive year, the Scripps National Spelling Bee  crowned co-champions. This year, Jairam Jagadeesh Hathwar correctly spelled Feldenkrais, sharing the top orthographical prize with Nihar Saireddy Janga, who spelled Gesellschaft. Where do these words come from – and what do they mean, anyways?

Feldenkrais

Feldenkrais is a trademarked name “for a system of aided body movements intended to increase bodily awareness and ease tension,” as Merriam-Webster, the official dictionary of the bee, explains it. This form of somatic education takes its name from Moshé Pinchas Feldenkrais, an Israeli scientist born in what is now the Ukraine, who designed and founded the Feldenkrais Method.

Gesellschaft

First theorized by German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies, Gesellschaft is “a rationally developed mechanistic type of social relationship characterized by impersonally contracted associations between persons,” according to Merriam-Webster.  Gesellschaft characterizes the more modern, impersonal, and institutional relationships of modern society, compared to the more personal, traditional, and rural ones of Gemeinschaft.

Literally translated as “companionship” but used in the sense of “society,” Gesellschaft joins the German geselle, a “companion,” “associate,” or “fellow (guildsman),” with the noun-forming suffix –schaft, related to English’s own -ship, as in, well, companionship. The suffix, at root, means “state” or “condition,” ultimately cognate to the word shape.

To ace the shape of these words, Hathwar and Janga no doubt mastered the orthographical equivalent of Feldenkrais.

m ∫ r ∫

 

 

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